Pop! Pop! Pow! Wham! Whoomp! As you walk into the gym, you hear the familiar sound of boxers hammering the heavy bag. Pop! Pop! Pow! Wham! Whoomp! Sounds like a double jab, straight right, hook, uppercut combination.
The sounds are easy to recognize. The “pop” is the snapping crack of the jab. The “pow” is the exploding smash of the straight right. The “wham” is the crashing blast of the hook. The “whoomp” is the thumping report of the uppercut. The heavy bag absorbs it all. It takes all the hits and responds with thuds, creaks and groans, but never a whimper.
You love the sounds. There is something primal about them. There is a deep down visceral feeling of satisfaction. You look forward to the feeling of release you will get when you finish your own heavy bag session.
Ah, the heavy bag! Is it the ultimate guilt free stress reliever?
Stress relief is undoubtedly a major benefit of working the heavy bag.
Heavy bag training is an all out anaerobic activity. It works like an antidote to stress. Fast paced punching combinations require extreme focus. They get your mind off negative thoughts. They pump you up and help eliminate the metabolic byproducts of stress. (1)
Heavy bag drills also make you push through your lactate threshold. They temporarily wipe you out. You feel spent.
As you recover your oxygen debt, you feel the tension in your muscles ease. You feel rejuvenated. The intense pace can also cause positive changes in your brain by releasing serotonin, a neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of relaxation and satisfaction. (2)
In addition to stress relief, working the heavy bag activates all the major muscle groups in your body. The arms, shoulders, back, gluteals, hips and legs all work together as you punch the bag. It is a fantastic total body workout that builds functional speed, power, balance, timing and coordination. (3)
OK, it’s a great stress reliever and a fantastic total body workout. What does a good heavy bag routine look like?
To get the most out of your heavy bag workout, you need a plan. (4) For example, you may want to start out with one minute rounds (work intervals), interspersed with 30 to 60 second rest/recovery periods.
You may also want to start with basic punching combinations. As your anaerobic stamina increases and your skill improves, you can gradually increase the length of your rounds to 3 minutes and incorporate more complex punching combinations.
During the round, or work interval, you should strive to punch continuously. Controlled continuous punching is the key to optimizing the benefits of your workout. Beginners are amazed at how quickly their heart rate accelerates and their arms, shoulders, obliques and legs run out of gas.
If you have an interval timer, you can break the round down into a series of 30 second intervals, punctuated by a “bing, bing” signal. With each 30 second interval transition, you can adjust your intensity level and vary your punching combinations.
The variety of possible combinations in a heavy bag workout is virtually unlimited.
The Boxer’s Guide to Performance Enhancement (see references) has some great examples:
Speed Drill - Throw your punches as fast as possible. A minimum of 4 punches per combination. Develops speed and anaerobic endurance.
Outside Drill - Throw your jab and straight power punch combination. Circle and jab. Throw your combination and move. Circle in both directions. Develops footwork and staying power.
Inside Drill - Get in close with hooks and uppercuts. Slip, bob and weave. Develops inside power and stamina.
Change Directions - If you usually circle left, circle right. Throw jabs while mixing in combinations as you move. Develops coordination, endurance and change-up ability.